The fans are booing and unfurling home-made banners, demanding the manager’s head. “Out! Out! Out!”. Chelsea chairman Ken Bates moves fast, sacks Claudio Ranieri, and appoints… me! The roar of 43,000 supporters is deafening – and wakes me up from my dreams.
But with Championship Manager Season 01/02, dreams become virtual reality. One of the most popular computer games around, Championship Manager (CM) has been on the Mac since the days when Fulham played second-division football. It lets us prove that, given the chance, we’d be better managers than Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson or Martin O’Neil – even Gordon Strachan. As for Ranieri…
What makes CM so much fun is the realism, achieved by an incredible level of detail – there’s more stats here than in John Motson’s library. And it isn’t just for show. If you want to make it to the top, or even past the post-match press interview, you must draw on these facts and figures to pick your best team, sign the wonder players, and, most importantly, get the three points.
CM’s interface is so simple, you’d think even Carlton Palmer could get his head round this game. However, the stats engine behind the interface demands real long-term care and attention.
From the 26 playable worldwide leagues, there are profiles and histories for over 100,000 players, managers, and coaches.Being the man in the sheepskin coat means not only managing your players, but setting training sessions, sending out club scouts, checking on physios, and even managing the reserve team if you want to.
CM does make getting through the sea of stats slightly simpler, with tools such as the squad filter that allows you to concentrate on certain types of player – left-footed midfielders, for a topical example.
To really pick-up the rudiments of CM, I should have done a Vialli, and knuckled-down with a smaller team such as Watford, learned the ropes, and gone for the big teams when up to speed. But eight years on the terraces obviously taught me something, and I was quickly top of the league. However, any sense of truth was dashed in my subsequent 2-2 draw with Leicester – as Akinbiyi scored a brace… Unbelievable!
CM is maybe too real for many armchair Fergies. What all fans would love to do is splash the cash like Real Madrid or Lazio. If you do that in CM, you’re likely to last as long as … a manager of Real or Lazio.
To get serious money, you need to involve yourself in the nitty-gritty of club revenues – turnstile receipts and merchandising moolah. Something’s got to pay those giant wage bills.
CM01/02’s enhanced Media involvement means you can make a right John Gregory of yourself by mouthing-off to the local and national press.
Starting at the bottom – a bit like Burton Albion’s Nigel Clough – is the best way of learning the game, before launching straight into the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga. It also saves the continual headache of your best players getting called-up for international duty. Then, you can, Steve Bruce-like, leave the minnows for bigger clubs as the opportunities arise.
You’ll get a bigger job when you accumulate enough Manager Points, which count as your reputation in the game. Your length of tenure is determined by the club’s board and chairman. When you’re offered a job, the board will set you a task – from improving the squad or battling relegation to a place in Europe or the championship itself. The merest sign of failure will have you back on public transport faster than Christian Gross.
However, I couldn’t resist starting as boss of Chelsea – and I did pretty well, as you can see from these screenshots. I was over the moon to strengthen my squad with Everton’s Scott Gemmill and Man City’s 26-goal hero Shaun Goater for just £1m. But even I couldn’t persuade Robbie Fowler to switch from Liverpool. Who knows what David O’Leary had to do…
Despite my brilliant start, I know that it’s a game of two halves, and I would have come unstuck by Christmas. What CM lacks is skill levels, so that players can set an Easy option to start with, and work up to Advanced – as many other games allow. I don’t have much patience when it comes to games – I once broke a Cluedo board over my sister’s head – so I need to break-in quite complex ones. CM is unforgiving from the first blast of the whistle.
Championship Manager 01/02 is as good as its predecessors, with some extra levels of optional complexity and all the new rule changes. Despite my brilliant start with Chelsea, I’ve spoken to many other players who recommend a slower start from the lower divisions. But then, maybe I’m just a born Blues boss – in my dreams… “Now, Glenn… about buying Poyet back…”